Guest Post: Both Sides

I received an email via my contact page from David, who has seen both sides of receiving a DUI/DWI, both as an offender and as a victim. It's a really great perspective on everything we face. While this site does try to help get people through their DUI experiences, we do not endorse drinking and driving, and hope that everybody who goes through it learns their lesson and does not have a repeat offense. Thanks to David for this article, it was a harrowing read. - Tom.

My name is David. I am both a DWI offender and a victim of a DWI crash.

My DWI

Years ago, I had a bunch beers while enjoying a summer weekend with friends: I don't remember the exact number but it was at least 4 or 5. I stopped drinking at some point before I knew I had to leave.

I didn't stop soon enough. I didn't know that at the time. I thought I was ok to drive. I had driven home many, many times before in worse shape.

I was about a mile from home when I rear ended another driver at a red light. Fortunately, it was a minor fender bender and neither of us were hurt.

The cops came: I failed field sobriety tests, was arrested and taken to jail. I blew .09 at the station.

I was kept overnight in jail. I didn't sleep. My mind was racing with what might happen. All I could imagine was the worst.

The next morning, I walked home: my car was impounded and undriveable. My house keys were with my car; I had to break into my house.

That was a long, difficult summer and fall. I took the laws seriously: I sold my car after it was repaired. I rode my bike and public transportation every where I needed to go, including court.

I attended the driver responsibility training. During the driver responsibility training, I learned about the rate that alcohol metabolizes. I attended a victim impact panel.

I live in a state next to Canada: I haven't been to Canada since. I plan to request permission to go to Canada again soon.

Since then, I have tried to be responsible about drinking. I have gone long periods without drinking.

Being Hit By a Drunk Driver

Jump ahead a few years: my wife and I went out to dinner with one of her friends. We rode our bikes from our house to the restaurant, something we’d done many times before. It was a beautiful, late summer evening and we thoroughly enjoyed the weather and ride.

After dinner, my wife suggested we ride down to the waterfront. We had done so dozens of times before: it seemed perfectly safe.

We rode about 100 feet when it happened: we were hit. My wife and I were riding single file. She was riding behind me and the drunk driver hit her first. He hit me immediately after her.

Neither of us had any clue what happened. One moment we're riding our bikes, the next, we were flat on our backs, on the road. We were thrown from our bikes on to the road.

I couldn't move but I tried to pull myself up. I must have been unconscious briefly because someone was already with me and told me to lay still. I didn't know where my wife was or if anything had happened to her. I didn’t really know what was going on around me: I tunnel vision that limited what I saw and experienced.

Meanwhile, the driver who hit us took off. My bike was under the front of his SUV. He stopped after about 500', got out of his SUV and tried to pull my bike out from under his car.

By that time, people running after his car caught up to him. Moments later, the police showed up. He refused the breath test and was arrested.

An ambulance showed up and took me to the local emergency room. When I was unloaded, I heard the emergency room personnel say that one of us would go in one room and I to another. It was at that point I realized my wife was hurt. I didn't know just how badly she was until later that night.

We were hit around 9:45pm. I spent the entire night in an emergency room, wide awake.

Around 11pm, a police officer came to ask me if I knew what happened. I had no clue, so he filled in the details. And he told me what had happened to my wife: she had a broken leg, fractured ribs, fractured vertebrae and a broken collarbone.

I was a lot more fortunate: mostly scrapes and bruises. My back was torn up from landing and sliding on the road. Because of that, I didn't see a doctor until about 6am.

When the doctor released me, I couldn't walk. The trauma of being hit took its toll on me. The doctor gave me a cane and sent me on my way. I mustered all of my strength and, quite literally, dragged myself to my wife's room.

When I finally got there, I was never so happy to see someone in my life. She was battered and clearly injured but she was alive.

My wife had surgery to fix her leg later that day. Doctors put a rod in her leg to put it back together. That sounds like a simple thing but in reality, it is a very violent surgery. The rod has to be hammered in. Go look up inter medullary rod surgery on YouTube. There are plenty of videos showing how it's done.

My wife stayed on the surgery floor for for a couple days and was then transferred to the rehab floor.

She spent two weeks in rehab, learning how to walk again, how to get out of bed. When you are hurt that badly, your body shuts down. Nurses get you out of bed to go to the bathroom... after they take your catheter out. You have no independence: you have to retrain your body to do basic functions.

Over the course of two weeks, my wife progressed from not being able to get out of bed to a wheelchair to a walker and finally to a cane. She was released from the hospital wearing a cervical collar, which she had to wear another 12 weeks.

She lost her independence during that time. She could not drive. Me, my family, our friends took her to the many follow up appointments. She had to go to physical therapy for weeks afterwards.

While my wife was being put back together in the hospital, getting rehab, trying to recover from this incredibly violent assault, the driver was at home, sleeping in his own bed. Going about his daily life.

While she was in the hospital, I struggled through daily existence. I couldn't walk without a cane for several weeks and was dependent on friends to get me to the hospital and back. My wife missed the start of our son’s school year. She missed the start of his soccer season. She didn’t go to the school’s open house.

My mother came to stay with us. She drove me everywhere and, when my wife got out of the hospital, drove her many places.

Slowly, we recovered from our physical injuries. The rod in my wife's leg made it impossible for her to lay on that side and, a year later, she had it removed.

We both have constant reminders of the crash. My wife has scars on her leg from the surgeries. Her collarbone never healed properly. Her doctor told her she faces arthritis in the bones that were injured.

I have scars on my back. I developed tinnitus, probably from hitting my head on the SUV and/or road. I have a constant, high pitched ringing in my ears: it never stops and it never gets better.

Those are the physical scars. My wife didn’t want to ever ride a bike again. She did get back on a bike but she won’t ride anywhere except the neighborhood. We used to enjoy exploring the city, going places, doing things on our bikes. That joy is gone for my wife: every car that passes makes her nervous. She won’t ride at night. That I ride when it’s dark makes my wife very nervous.

After The Crash

After the crash, we had to deal with all sorts of issues.

The person who hit us ran. He left us for dead. Running sends a very strong message to victims about the value of their lives: it says that we are worth nothing. A human would stop, if for no other reason to see if we were ok.

Running makes the driver a monster. It makes him inhuman.

We suddenly got sucked into the insurance system. We live in a no fault state and the hospital and doctors dealt with the insurance company directly for the most part. There was a long, tense period where the insurance company was “deciding” if we shared any responsibility (we didn’t).

We wondered if there were going to be medical bills not covered by the insurance. We worried about how we would have to pay those if it happened.

We also got sucked into the criminal justice system. A victim advocate and the district attorney came to see us in the hospital. We were, to say the least, skeptical about what would happen.

The person who hit us was charged with a variety of things. It wasn’t his first DWI, either: he had a prior DWI conviction 7 years earlier that resulted in a 3 year probation. Clearly, he didn’t learn anything from that experience.

By the time we got to the arraignment (yes, victims can and will attend your arraignment), the driver had agreed to plead guilt to the top offense (hitting and injuring my wife while intoxicated). No one ever came right out and told us but the other charges were dropped. The driver was not prosecuted for hitting me.

We had to wait months while the criminal justice system did what they needed to do: talk to the driver, write sentencing recommendation reports et cetera. When it came time for sentencing, we were given the opportunity to make statements to the court. We were also encouraged to gather statements from our family members and friends about the impact on them (more on that below). In our statements, we could ask the judge to give a certain sentence.

The driver who hit us faced a maximum sentence of 3 years in prison. The sentencing guidelines in our state aren’t great, from a victim’s standpoint. For the crime, any given sentence seems like a joke.

My wife and I both read statements we’d prepared. We asked the judge for a split sentence: some jail time and five years of probation. We wanted the driver under close supervision for the maximum amount of time. A prison sentence might have been more punitive in the short term but would have, overall, resulted in less supervised time.

The judge was surprised by our request but understood the logic and agreed to it. He also made it abundantly clear to the driver that, if he violated probation, he would sentence the driver the maximum he could.

The driver and his lawyer attempted to show the judge he had started to turn his life around. He may have tried to apologize, I don’t know. I don’t recall anything that sounded even remotely like a sincere apology.

I mentioned the impact on our families above. One of the things you have to when something like this happens is tell everyone in your family before they find out some other way. We were lucky in that respect: our families didn’t have police officers showing up to tell them we were dead.

Almost all our family members live far away: my wife’s dad lives at the other end of the state. My dad lives in the south; my mom was in an airport somewhere. My wife’s brother lives overseas. Only my sister lives in town.

I had to call my wife’s father and tell him what happened and that we were ok. I couldn’t reach my mother: I had to message her through Facebook. Same thing for my dad.

I had no idea how to reach my wife’s brother: I’d never called him. So I took her phone and texted him. I wasn’t thinking about how any of these people would receive the message: I just needed to tell them as quickly as possible.

It wasn’t until months later that I found out about the impact of those messages. My wife’s brother said (in his impact statement): “I chat online with (my sister) quite frequently. Seeing her name popup in the message list on my mobile phone is a regular event. I know, when I see her name, that I am communicating with my sister. However, on the afternoon (after the crash), I received a very disturbing message. The message was delivered from Roberta's mobile phone, however it was made quite clear from the onset that it wasn't my sister who was writing.”

“Seeing that someone very close to my sister, but not my sister herself, was writing to me from her phone sent an immediate and shocking chill through my body. My immediate fear was that my sister had died somehow, and this was the method by which I would receive the news. He ultimately told me they were both alive and will survive, but I will never forget that cold chill shock. I will never forget that moment of feeling that I might have just lost my sister forever.”

I choke up and tears come to my eyes every time I read that. It chills me to the core: I don’t want anything like what happened to us to happen to any of my friends or family members.

The driver received a split sentence. He served his jail time and is currently service his probation. He wore an ankle monitor for six months or so. While he’s on probation, he must live under a long list of restrictions. He can’t leave the county. He can’t go anyplace (restaurant, bar) that serves alcohol (that includes Chucky Cheese). He faces random inspections. There can’t be any alcohol where he lives.

If the DMV agrees to let him have his license back (an uncertainty considering the prior DWI and the violence of the 2nd), he’ll have to put (and pay for) an interlock in every car he has access to in his household.

He has a felony conviction, which makes certain job opportunities unavailable to him.

We understand he paid his lawyers $10,000. For two court appearances. Actually, he didn’t pay it: a family friend did. I assume he has to pay it back.

Final Thoughts

As part of the civil side of a DWI crash, your victims will find out a lot about you. We found out the driver who hit us had declared bankruptcy and had tens of thousands of dollars of outstanding debts. He didn’t have any assets.

You might want to think about that if you’ve had one DWI. The reason a victim’s lawyer looks into your assets is to see what can be recovered for the victim.

We were fortunate that the driver who hit us carried reasonable insurance coverage. It covered all our medical expenses. There are limits to the coverage, however. That largest number (bodily injury liability) is a policy limit: all victims split it. So, if you have $300,000 (which is common), that’s the max the insurance company will pay out to all victims, combined. If those victims obtain a judgement against you, the balance comes from your assets.

The penalties for DWI, especially for a DWI that doesn’t involve other victims, can seem harsh. To the victim, they seem laughable. Having been both, I understand the point: they are intended to deter drivers from repeat DWIs. In our part of the state, all DWI drivers have to attend driver responsibility training and a victim impact panel.

At the victim impact panel, people like my wife and I, and other people, who’ve lost children, husbands, wives, parents, tell their story. They talk about the impact it had on their lives. We have a couple of people who’ve had multiple DWIs and made victims of themselves who present.

It is a terrible club to be in. Everyone there is because of heartbreak. For the victims, it doesn’t ever get better. There is not a day that goes by when we don’t think about what happened, what someone else did to us.

And in so doing, how cheaply they did it. How little value they place on our lives. We know our lives could have been, the lives of loved ones were, taken away for a few drinks.

Depending on where you live, the recidivism rate is somewhere between 11 and 69%. A DWI arrest is a predictor of another arrest. And, from what I’ve learned, the 2nd and later offenses will be worse. It is not a matter of whether you will be involved in a crash, just a matter of time.

Every one of the victims I present with has the same message: we don’t care if you drink. If you have a problem, we want you to get help. But if you want to drink socially, we’re not trying to discourage you. We just want you to do everything you can to stop yourself from drinking and driving. We want you to have a plan and to stick to it: once you’ve started drinking, your decision making ability is impaired and you will not make the right decision.

More Than Just Proof Of Insurance: The SR-22

Both your criminal conviction and the conditions to reinstate your license (either restricted or full) will be that you carry proof of insurance. Easy right? You’ve always driven with insurance.

Unfortunately, that’s not what they’re looking for. Yes, you absolutely have to keep your current insurance (if they will keep you) but additionally you’re going to have to add an SR-22 to your policy.

Like most people, I didn’t know what an SR-22 was besides hearing about it on the radio ads for sketchy places that will insure you without a license. An SR-22 addition means that you’re a high risk driver in that you either got a DUI or into a serious accident. It’s just a proof that you have insurance and that your company knows that you’ve been in trouble before. The SR-22 itself isn’t insurance. It offers no additional coverage or protection. CA law requires you to keep it for 3 years, other states have similar polices and varying amount of times, but 3 years is the standard. Once that’s up, drop it from your policy.

Here’s the big “gotcha” of the whole thing: if you switch insurance companies and get a separate SR-22, your three years
will start over. This is an incredibly easy mistake to make, don’t get caught up in it. Once you get your SR-22 you are free to change insurance companies, just make sure they do an SR-22 transfer. Then it will continue to count and you’ll be over it as quickly as can be.

Additionally, in California at least, the SR-22 is never a document that you will hold in your hand. You purchase it, then it’s sent to the DMV, and you’re given an estimation of when it will arrive. Not particularly helpful, but whatever. In a pinch I’m told it can be
faxed in a matter of hours. In a world of instant gratification, this part is a complete hassle and frustration.

Getting the SR-22 isn’t hard, but it’s a pain. My insurance company has an app and reporting a claim is super easy, I don’t have to talk to people, it’s like ordering a pizza in this day and age.

There’s nowhere to get an SR-22 in the app. You have to call. Now that we have our technology, I hate to make the call, but you have to make the call. No insurance company (that I know of) allows you to get one over their website, or anything else. This also comes with them asking why you’re being required to get one. You gotta tell them, sadly. This is usually how your insurance finds out about your DUI, and adjusts their rates accordingly.

Can I get an SR-22 without telling my insurance company?

A common question. I looked into it. You actually can.

I don’t recommend it.
I really don’t recommend it.

There’s two types of SR-22 - one for owners of a car, and one for non-owners. When you get your DUI you’re going to get all sorts of mailings from people saying that they can give you an SR-22 without telling your insurance company. They’re trying to sell you a non-owners SR-22 for the car that you own (leasing, etc. counts). They’re trying to tell you that it will be fine.
It will not be fine.

First of all, the DMV knows whether you own a car or not. They’re going through your file already, it will be very easy for them to put 2 and 2 together when you go into the DMV to get your license reinstated with a form saying that you put an interlock device on your car, with an SR-22 that says that you don’t own a car. You laugh, but people have tried it.

Additionally, if you’re in an accident, all of your shit comes up, and it’ll be clear that you tried to get around it. Which would be a violation of your plea bargain, and that will get you in a world of trouble. In some states you are required to keep the SR-22 with your car. When you get pulled over in your car with a non-owner SR-22, well, it’s easy.

Basically, so many things can go wrong with this, it’s not even funny. I know you want to try to get away with something at this point because you feel that everybody’s turning the screws on you, but this isn’t it.

But the biggest thing is that non-owner SR-22s are
really expensive. Anywhere from $75-100 a month.

Typically, your insurance will not raise your rates by near that amount.

It’s not worth it.

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